As smart cities gain popularity, and companies start investing in this new venture, it’s only natural for the public sector to start taking things seriously. And as every piece keeps falling into place, with the technology advancing and the market and laws maturing, the future becomes more and more visible with time.
SmartCityTech is an initiative that plans to drive smart solutions on urban areas across the european continent. The project has been awarded by the European Commission with the European Strategic Cluster Partnership, and it received financial support from the EU’s COSME Programme. With a budget of almost 250.000 EUR, eight project partners and six participating countries, its members have the ambition of eventually branching to the rest of the world for a more cohesive and collaborative smart city global scene.
Speaking at the Smart City Expo World Congress, Vice-Chairman Mark De Colvenaer talked about human resilience, and how at its core, that’s the main objective of the alliance. He gave an example of red ants, and how they work together to overcome obstacles, a behaviour he hopes to replicate. “Nowadays, we have different tools,” he argued, mentioning technologies like IoT that can dramatically enhance the way we live.
He continued: “We have quite a few human senses. But technology can do many things for us which makes our life much more efficient and reliable.” He gave the simple example of Google Maps, which has become an important part of people’s lives, and also mentioned how sensor technology helped reduce theft in Belgium with what he called “smart signposts”.
De Colvenaer explained that SmartCityTech wants to help companies like the one building those signposts to be more competitive. “We want to help them build resilient cities. Resilient urban areas.” And that doesn’t just mean digital platforms, where many projects usually stop at, but also a supply chain. All to give “a more compelling value proposition.” For that, the alliance also has a Joint Cooperation Agenda, which in turn presents six different steps for the successful development of these projects.
The first one is to “bring people together”, which includes sharing information and experiences for a collaborative learning process. SmartCityTech has already taken those steps, with partners like DSP Valley, Brains Business, House of Energy, BICCnet, GAIA, AMEC, Advancity and SCC coming from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, France and Spain. And the idea is to go for even more.
The second step is developing a joint vision, which essentially means establishing common goals and objectives among all of the partners in order to have a more cohesive process. The next part is to enhance efficiency to speed up the process, and the fourth step is to develop global innovation capacities. In short, make things happen, take action.
Before the last step, a very important part is to secure funding, which De Colvenaer reckoned could be from either the public or private sectors. He went on about the challenges of funding these initiatives, which usually offer long-term result and rarely short-term ones. After all, there’s no “ideal customer” when developing these ideas, because everyone is a citizen. And so it can be a hard process to monetize or just get funded in the first place, even by public parties. “Good projects get funded,” he admitted. “But good projects also have sound business models.”
Finally, the last step is to go beyond Europe and collaborate on other continents. There’s already talks about partnerships with Singapour, where SmartCityTech is exploring opportunities and will realize events there next year to test the ground. After that, India and the US are potential targets.
For any other project related to smart cities or even similar sectors, many of these are steps that will surely apply in those cases as well. It’s important to recognize the value of going together into this, because the alternative could be a deeply fragmented ecosystem where different regions and cities use different technologies and methodologies, and can’t help each other as a result.
That wouldn’t be an apocalyptic scenario, but it also wouldn’t be ideal. These is a subject that goes beyond consumer electronics or benefits. We’re not talking about smartphones or smart home appliances here. It has to do a lot with public services, and by default, with government. It’s a concept that aims to directly enhance people’s lives, and laying out the groundwork for future collaborations is without a doubt essential.